role of the prophetFor some odd reason the purpose and role of the prophet in our lives seems to be up for debate and subject to criticism by some within the Church. In my mind it is like trying to see the need for a parent in a family. Why not just let the children govern themselves? Let’s look at some of the basic reasons prophets are so important to us today.

A great parable

In Doctrine and Covenants 101:43-54 the Lord teaches us about the importance of and our need for a prophet. Whenever the Lord talks about harvesting food for a future time he is referring to the souls of His children. It doesn’t matter if the reference refers to wheat, a vineyard, olive trees, or any other fruit. He is always referring to the salvation of His children.
Let’s look at these verses and compare them to the Church and to our own families. When the Lord refers to watchmen He is talking about those He has given to us who are supposed to protect us. This includes (for the Church) the prophet and apostles, as well as our local leaders. For our families it refers to the parents whose job is to protect and guide their children and prepare them to be good stewards in the Lord’s kingdom when they leave home.

The Comparison

43 And now, I will show unto you a parable, that you may know my will concerning the redemption of Zion.

44 A certain nobleman had a spot of land, very choice; and he said unto his servants: Go ye unto my vineyard, even upon this very choice piece of land, and plant twelve olive trees;

45 And set watchmen round about them, and build a tower, that one may overlook the land round about, to be a watchman upon the tower, that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard.

46 Now, the servants of the nobleman went and did as their lord commanded them, and planted the olive trees, and built a hedge round about, and set watchmen, and began to build a tower.

Note that this parable is all about how to redeem or save the people of Zion, whether we are talking about individuals, families, communities, or the global Church. The twelve olive trees would normally represent the twelve tribes of Israel. We all belong to the house of Israel, so He is talking about us.
The Lord has prepared servants whose responsibility it is to protect us from the damage of Satan and from evil and conspiring men/women in the last days. They aren’t so concerned with claiming our souls for some grand purpose as much they are trying to prevent God from having our company in the eternities. As the Lord says, the enemy just wants to “come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard.”
In the parable the work the Lord outlined for His servants was begun. They built the hedges, the primary defenses, and they began to build the tower, the main fortification needed to really protect the vineyard (His people).

The importance of vision

The reason the Lord wanted a tower in the middle of his children was so His servants could get a better view of what dangers were approaching before they arrived. In the case of the parable He wants his servants to be able to see afar off so they know when danger is approaching. It is very difficult to be taken by surprise attack when someone can see it coming a mile away. The more notice you have of the coming attack, the better chance you have to prepare a defense. One of the main purposes of the prophet is to provide us with the vision we need of what is coming so we have time to prepare for it.
Satan is very active these days, and his tactics are continually shifting. Without the vision of a prophet there is no way for us to be fully prepared for his attacks against our families and our souls.

Slothful servants

47 And while they were yet laying the foundation thereof, they began to say among themselves: And what need hath my lord of this tower?

48 And consulted for a long time, saying among themselves: What need hath my lord of this tower, seeing this is a time of peace?

49 Might not this money be given to the exchangers? For there is no need of these things.

50 And while they were at variance one with another they became very slothful, and they hearkened not unto the commandments of their lord.

The tower needed to reach high above the field where the vineyard was growing, and required significant preparation. Building such a tower is both expensive in materials and in labor. In the parable the servants decided that because they did not personally understand the need for such an imposing structure, it must not be truly necessary. Surely their master could have put His resources to better use elsewhere. They used every excuse they could think of to not have to make the preparations the master required.

 This is where we bring this lesson home, literally. As the watchmen in our own homes, as the guardians of our children, do we make excuses for not building our “tower”? The Lord’s chief servant, the Prophet, has raised his warning voice and told us to have family home evening. But it just turns into family fight night, so we excuse ourselves from having to do it.
The Prophet has told us to have family prayer morning and night, but that means we have to get up really early in the morning to pray with the children who have to go to early morning seminary. Too hard, so we don’t do it. And if we insist they be home at a certain time for family prayer before the young ones go to bed, well they might miss out on some of their activities for school or with their friends, so we excuse ourselves from this requirement. The question we should be asking ourselves is which of these activities will be of greater benefit to the souls of our children, prayer with the family or time with their friends?
The Prophet says we need to have a year’s supply of food, but we have convinced ourselves that we can’t afford it, so we excuse ourselves from that requirement. He reduces the requirement to six months, yet we still can’t measure up to the call to prepare. He reduces the plea to have at least a three or even one month supply, yet it is so much more convenient to go to the grocery store for every meal. That way we don’t have to clutter our cupboards and closets.
The Prophet tells us to set aside a six month supply of money in case we lose our employment, but we are too busy paying off our high interest credit cards that we just can’t stop using, so we don’t save up like we should.
The list I am drawing from is quite extensive, and any one of us could start giving more examples of how the Prophet keeps telling us we need to get actively involved in the lives of the new members in our wards and branches, how we need to be doing more family history work for the welfare of our ancestors, how we need to be attending the temple more often, how we need to be more generous in our fast offerings and other offerings, etc., etc.

The result

51 And the enemy came by night, and broke down the hedge; and the servants of the nobleman arose and were affrighted, and fled; and the enemy destroyed their works, and broke down the olive trees. 
When our children marry outside the temple we wonder why. When our children become inactive and stop going to church each week, they pick up habits that we are sure they were taught better than to pick up, and when they are lack luster in their obedience to the commandments of God, we wonder what happened. We took them to Church. Once in a while we may have even given them a blessing, and we may even have fought with them until they grudgingly went to seminary. So what happened?

Perfection not guaranteed

Don’t get me wrong. Doing everything the prophets have told us we need to do doesn’t guarantee any specific results for our children. They are still endowed with agency that allows them to make whatever choices they want to make. But what chances do we have that our children will marry in the temple, stay active in the Church, and grow up to be responsible people before the Lord if we have not taken the time to build our home defenses by holding family home evening, prayers, scripture study, and by providing opportunities for service on a regular basis?

Our Watchmen

In the next verse of this parable the Lord refers to the lazy attitude of His servants as a “great evil.” But I can guarantee that the servants He has employed to govern His Church are not the lazy ones. They are building the Church’s defenses. They are sounding the warning cry to one and all. They are doing everything in their power to prepare us for what is coming.
Look at the changes the prophets have been making in the Church just over the last 25 years. The Proclamation on the Family came at a time when very few saw a real need for it. But now, looking back at the havoc society has caused for families, that proclamation was a real lifesaver. Think about the recent announcement that the adults will now be learning from and studying the Conference talks every week for six months at a time in Relief Society and Priesthood.
The nature of our lessons is changing. As members of the Church we are being required to step up our game and participate and shoulder the responsibility for our own learning when we go to Church. Gone are the days when we sit and get lectured to. Now we are expected to actively seek learning and testimony together. Why? I don’t know. But if it wasn’t for our own protection and salvation, the Prophet wouldn’t have authorized the change.

The value of a living Prophet

Joseph Smith gave the saints of his day the gospel they needed for their salvation. The saints in the days of Joseph F. Smith were guided through their turbulent times in the first world war by the voice of warning they received from President Smith. Even so, the saints of today receive instruction from the Lord by a living Prophet who sees afar off and prepares the Lord’s people for what is coming.
But to be prepared we have to listen and obey. The Lord’s chastisement of the watchmen in the parable was because they made excuses and didn’t do what was necessary to save what was His (which is us). The Brethren and general leadership of the Church today are not at fault when it comes to building the Church’s defenses and sounding the warning cry. If anyone is at fault it is many of us in the general membership of the Church.
The Prophet and Apostles can talk til they are blue in the face, but it will not save a soul until the souls they are addressing (us) listen to their counsel and believe what they say then go out and do what they say. It is our own salvation, and that of our families that is on the line.
Listening to and obeying the prophets is never easy. It always requires effort and exertion, for it always requires personal change. The counsel of Prophets is rarely convenient. But there is no safety without it.